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EUCAP Niger sets up…

(BRUSSELS2) For the EUCAP Niger mission in Niamey, it is the beginning, the discovery of new territory, starting with the city, new authorities. For the PeSDC (the common security and defense policy), this is a bit of a first; the European Union has never evolved, in fact, in the Sahel countries apart from development or humanitarian aid programs. To be discreet, this mission is therefore no less important, especially since the risks of “terrorism” or “crime” are very present.

I was able to meet, along with 3 other colleagues, Colonel Francisco Espinosa Navas during one of his visits to Brussels and we were therefore able to take a first look at... the atmosphere.

Objective: increase in power

The first team of around twenty people is now hard at work in Niamey. EUCAP Niger is today “in the ramp-up phase” more precisely between the moment when the “top start” was given by the political authority (in July) and the full operational capacity (FOC) which should be reached by the end of the year. More precisely, a period of 4 months has been planned for this start-up phase. "If we can do it in 3 months, that's good. ».

The mission did, in fact, start a little early. The ministers having decided to bring forward the start of the mission, from September to July. As a result, a whole series of preparations could not be accomplished. Especially since the holidays and Ramadan, contacts with the Nigerien authorities have been more limited.

The first task is therefore logistics. “We have to settle in, find the headquarters (it’s almost done), buy cars, computers, cell phones, install the means of communication… ". In the meantime, the core group of around twenty people is staying in a large hotel in the Nigerien capital.

The hard core of “seniors” already in place

Around twenty people have already been recruited to form the hard core, coming from 5-6 countries. We thus find in it a deputy to the Belgian head of mission, an Italian head of operation (coming from the Carabinieri), a Swedish head of security (former police commissioner), a French political advisor (from the Gendarmerie), another Frenchman responsible for interoperability. A Belgian magistrate liaises with the Nigerien Ministry of Justice. Other recruitments are underway to reach the required level of 50 people. For the moment, no third country nationals are participating in the mission or have applied. But, as usual for civilian missions, all countries close to or linked by agreement with the European Union received the offer. According to our information, the Swiss are the most interested and have already requested more information.

The average age of the “hard core” is rather old. Which means, among other things, experience. “ We are people over 50, calm, balanced. But we also have a few “kids”… 40 years old » explains the head of the mission with a touch of humor. Why that ? “ We'll do some bullshit, no doubt. But we start from the principle that after 50 years, we are calmer. We are more in phase to respect the safety rules. » Despite everything, it will not be a cushy mission. The mission is “geographic singles” as they say in the police force. And life there is not as pleasant as in other missions. Effectively " we have some difficulty recruiting staff. Going to Africa is not easy. Living conditions are not easy »

Contact with the authorities, essential

This is the main task for Col Espinosa today: to make contact with the various authorities in Niger, both political and operational: the Ministry of Defense, the Interior, the police, the gendarmerie, etc. Because they are, them, who will in some way draw up the concrete roadmap for the mission, by defining the needs. “The first thing to do is to take inventory of training and training needs. Once the needs are known, we will start planning the courses » he explains. In this first approach, the colonel has an advantage, the European Union delegation in Niger provides him with active support at the political and logistical levels. Help that is sometimes very concrete and appreciated. “ I arrived at 3:30 a.m. (am) in Niamey. And they were there to welcome me.” Nb: this is one of the concrete results of the new organization of the European diplomatic service (EEAS).

A solar panel to power the police checkpoint (Credit: Interpol)

Intelligence and judicial police, vectors of greater efficiency

Among the avenues studied for training, there is undoubtedly specialized training for judicial police and intelligence units. This last function is essential given the size of the country and the possible threats. The risks are that of terrorism, of course, but not only that. Banditry and trafficking of all kinds, starting with arms trafficking but also drug trafficking, are among the threats. Another possible field: the establishment of coordination instruments between the different police forces (Police, Gendarmerie, National Guard) such as the interconnection of files.

The Nigerians seem willing. But they lack resources: cars, means of communication, weapons... The mission will not be able to directly provide them with these resources. But it has an essential ally, the European Commission and its budget lines… “ One of the objectives of the mission is also to provide support to the European Commission, to detect and define projects in terms of security.

The fundamentals of the mission

However, the mission is not intended to be able to do everything. EUCAP Niger « is and remains a civilian mission », unarmed and without executive mandate. It is " in the mandate defined by the 27. “Thus the Europeans will have no weapons, and no executive power”. That is to say, there is no question of Europeans being able to act in the streets or at the borders to arrest a suspect. “ We are always behind the Nigerien security forces, they are the ones who act on the front line” specifies Espinosa. And, so that there is no risk of confusion, everyone is without uniform, even for semi-militarized bodies like the Guardia Civil, the Gendarmerie or the Carabinieri.

The mission is located in the capital Niamey. And the training will take place a priori there. Logical choice because the three police academies are based there ". But it is not excluded to make trips, at least temporary, to other parts of the country, such as Agades, if the local authorities request it.

Mali, Mauritania? Maybe later

The mission is, for the moment, limited to Niger. Certainly it is intended to extend to other countries in the region (Mali, Mauritania). This is the meaning of the decision taken in July, as we have commented on several times. But for now, " there are no plans to carry out actions in these two countries. » The government of this country would have to request it, be ready to welcome a European mission... and that there should be financial and human resources available. However, to ensure good coordination with local authorities, there will also be two liaison officers: one in Nouakchott (Mauritania), the other in Bamako (Mali). In the same way, if no permanent connection is made with Algeria, which is very present in the region; occasional trips cannot be excluded, particularly with the Joint Operational Staff Committee (CEMOC) established in Tamanrasset and which brings together eight States in the region as well as the Fusion – Liaison Unit (UFL) in Algiers, responsible for the exchange of information.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde)

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Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).